Unwelcome to Canada

I crossed the border today from Calais, Maine to St. Stephen, New Brunswick. The border crossing was the second worst border crossing I’ve experienced in my life, second only to when I walked from Jordan to Israel.

I am not kidding.

I was asked almost as many questions as the Israelis asked me, they searched my car and every bag I had with me from top to bottom, and the worst thing was, it wasn’t just me. Most of the non-Maine residents were stopped and had to go through the same procedures.

Given my experience, my previous bad experience crossing into Canada by car, and the stories of other people, I am very reluctant of ever traveling to Canada by car again.

I’m still pissed off even though it happened several hours ago. I thought the US was bad, but I looked over the bridge at the American customs station and didn’t see anything close to what the Canadians were doing. I’m not even sure what the hell they were looking for. They didn’t have drug sniffing dogs, under car mirrors, or bothered to use an X-ray machine.

I’ve been on the road for 12 days now. Between the passing of my father and days and days of driving, I figure it is now time to get back to some blogging.

Up until now I’ve mostly been in meetings, meeting other bloggers and taking care of business. Now that I’m in Canada, the real travel part of my trip can being.

So far the highlights of my trip have been:

  • Lunch with Kim Mance in Chicago.
  • Lunch with my old college roommate Sean in Louisville.
  • Visiting Monticello in Virginia.
  • Getting a tour of the National Geographic Society Headquarters in Washington DC by Marilyn Terrell.
  • Finally taking some photos on Independence Hall in Philadelphia. A World Heritage Site I previously visited, but never had any photos of.
  • I had a great meal with many bloggers from the BlogHer conference in New York. I also sat next to master sommelier George Miliotes and had an interesting discussion about wine.

I’ve also gotten a great start on some major projects I’m working on. There will be more on that later.

The next two weeks I’ll be exploring the Maritime Provinces. Tomorrow I head to Nova Scotia to visit the Joggin Fossil Cliffs and the Bay of Fundy.

One thing I also will look into tomorrow is getting a sim card for my iPad. One great thing about the iPad is that is comes unlocked so I should be able to get a sim card in any country where they sell the iPad. If I can get that to work, then the iPad will be my primary data device in Canada.

For everyone who offered to meet up with me in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, please contact me again. I’ll be Halifax in a few days and should be in St. John’s in a week.

36 thoughts on “Unwelcome to Canada”

  1. I just had my second bad experience at St. Stephen border crossing this weekend. I was literally verbally assaulted by a female officer who started the conversation with a raised voice and was literally trying to trap me into under declaring the goods I had with me. I have worked in Customs in Canada for over 35 years, am a licensed Customs broker and the U.S. and Canadian Customs Manager of one of the biggest companies in Canada, so I know how to talk to Customs, and I never have problems in the USA or internationally, but returning to Canada, especially at these small border crossings, is a giant pain in the butt. They literally have nothing to do in St.Stephen and there are 3 border points very close together so unless they search every car and make everybody pay for everything, they would all be out of a job in about a year, so they make life miserable for everyone. That and the fact that there are some very, rude, ignorant and unprofessional people working at that border point and you have almost a guarantee of unnecessary harassment. I highly recommend anyone coming to Canada, try to cross in Ontario, at least they are professional and won’t waste your day with nonsense like in New Brunswick. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for protecting the country and doing their job, its my job too, but about half the people who work in that port should be fired for unprofessional, hostile and rude behavior.

  2. Just flew in to Toronto from Miami last month to visit my best friend for the weekend. They asked me a gazillion questions, one of which being- are you coming to Canada to work? I said, no i am coming for the weekend. To which the customs officer replied- “You’d be surprised how many people come here to work for the weekend” I didn’t really have a response to that. And it’s not only what they ask, it’s HOW they ask- like they are pure interrogating you. They of course proceeded to search my one tiny overnight bag. I actually almost disagree with you Gary about Israel being worse. First of all in Israel you expect it, and second- Israelies were thorough, true but MUCH nicer. What’s up with that, Canada?

  3. My Canadian frient told me, that border crossing in Canada can be unpleasent even for nationals. Strange, but seem to be true…

  4. Don’t feel like you were singled out at the border, Gary. Until recently, the Canadian Border Services was part of Canada Customs and Revenue. Translation: they want your tax dollars. The border service was not created initially to stop terrorists, but to collect customs tax dollars and drive us Canadians into the poor house. In 1993, I arrived by car at the same crossing with a female American companion. My car was sidelined, and all of MY bags were searched completely while hers were ignored. Reason: as we stated truthfully, after only an overnight in Maine, we had NO purchases (to pay taxes on). At the Canadian border, you are guilty until proven innocent. (ask an agent at the bar after work sometime) They did not even lift her bags out of the trunk – they could have been filled with gold bars. As a note to all potential land border arrivals to Canada – EXPECT this treatment, and much more so if you are a returning Canadian citizen.

  5. Hey Gary, I hope you put the stressful border-crossing behind you by now. It’s just the way it is sometimes. We love roadtrips, and have crossed the US-CA many times, and have never had a problem either way. Our maritimers will surely be washing away your worries with endless stories and laughter and the warmest of welcomings! Enjoy your time here, make sure you breathe the sweet ocean air in deeply…

  6. Gary, I’m sorry to say that your experience is not new. I went through the same kind of scenario in 1975 when I decided to homestead in British Columbia – it was the time of getting “back to the land”. I was born in Montreal but raised in America and I thought it was time to live a simpler life. The border guards seemed to have some kind of hostility and deep suspicion. Why? This was LONG before terrorism put border control on high alert. Go figure – is recto-cranial inversion a must for those seeking work with Canadian Customs?

    I hope you get out to Tofino on West Coast of Vancouver Island. It’s the “Sunset Capital of Canada” and just SO beautiful. I worked one season as a deckhand on a small salmon troller there and it was the highlight of my life. Please don’t miss it – it really is God’s Own Country.

    Wishing you happy trails from the Blue Mountains of Australia!

  7. My condolences to you in regards to your father’s passing.

    I’ve been meaning to head over to Nova Scotia myself. Not so sure now anymore. I hate dealing with any sort of governmental authority.

  8. canada is a wonderful country. I am sorry that your border crossing was a terrible experience when I went up to Quebec City and Montreal for two separate trips I did not have any problems crossing the border from vermont and new york.Love the great pictures in your blog. you have a great blog,


  9. Well I can sympathize as I have gone through the same thing going into the US several times. I just wrote up a post on my blog about it and some of the others I have been through. you would think that we (Canada and the USA) could be a little more civil with each other, given how close we are and how many of us work on both sides of the border.

  10. I was hassled going into Canada via Washington a few months ago as well. I’m a petite 30-year-old blonde with the face of innocence, I swear. They told me I was a security threat (apparently the thought of women traveling alone is outrageous) in a high-risk vehicle. I was totally interrogated, makes me hesitant to go back, which is sad.

  11. Welcome to Canada. This is how it is now. Don’t piss off the police when you are here either.

    You’re lucky your not a political activist or they wouldn’t let you in at all.

  12. My only land crossing into Canada (on the way to Niagara Falls) was speedy, as was my return to the US later that day. I’ve flown into Toronto twice; on one occasion the passport control officer decided to be a smart aleck but the other was smooth.

    You’ll probably appreciate traveling in China when you get there eventually. The passport control and security checks are usually far more courteous and uneventful than what we’ve become used to in the States.

  13. We’re run by Republicans now (Harper and Canadian Conservatives) … sure they have asked and hired guards that act like assholes because they can’t effective border guards in any other way!

    Sorry you had that experience man!

  14. i’ve had the third degree going in to canada several times…they hire JERKS to do that job. canadians always tell me it’s the same for them coming into the US…what’s with that? we spend winters in mexico and they are ALWAYS very courteous and rarely have any look at all into are stuff, even when the “random selection device” lights up red telling them to check us out a little.

  15. are you joking? the us border patrol does exactly the same procedures when crossing from canada to the us. tear everything apart, search you, etc…. that is their JOB. they are looking for drugs! and illegal citizens! do you know how many of each cross the worlds longest undefended border each day?! be thankful that they are doing their job because it’s keeping both countries safe. unfortunately it happens at the cost of travelers time, patience, and comfort levels sometimes, but it’s all for good reason.

    • No, its not for a good reason. Like I said, if they were really looking for drugs, then have a drug sniffing dog. I’ve seen them dozens of times around the world. If they are looking for illegal aliens, then go places other than border crossings where you can sneak, not where people with passports drive across with cars.

      If the border needs protecting, then they’ve already failed by letting bad guys into the country at the airport

      Our two countries got by just fine for 200 years without the need for passports and giving everyone the North Korean once over. The safety of a country isn’t determined by the discomfort they give.

  16. Wow. During our travels we always look the most forward to the crossing back into Canada border crossing. We have not taken the land travel border crossings in a long time. (only air) But when we have it was always such a breeze compared to our crossing into the states. We always enjoy smiles and well wishes of welcome home and even receive help with our duty forms.

    The worst crossings we ever experienced were the states, UK, and Russia. While Canada and Germany are on our best crossing stories.

    I’m sorry to hear of yours and others bad experiences. Really makes me feel less pride for my country to treat our visitors in this manner. However in the recent years I have noticed security being more present in all manners and the thought of Canada becoming a super nanny state becoming more and more believable. Sigh…

  17. Wow, and I thought our crossing into Vancouver was some sort of anomaly. After ripping our car apart and threatening to hold us, etc. to the point I was shedding tears, they suddenly said “Okay you’re fine to go – we’re hard on you because the crossing back to the US will be even worse. We just want to make sure they’ll let you back in.”

    Uh, what? Our crossing back to the US was a non-event.

  18. Yikes! I hope your visit in Canada goes well. If your plans take you there, be sure to visit Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.

  19. Wow, sorry to hear that, Gary. But as Authentic Seacoast Resorts said above, the Nova Scotians will make you forget it, especially those in Cape Breton (my favourite place on the planet). I hope the rest of your trip through Canada improves exponentially!

  20. Sorry to hear about the difficult border crossing, Gary. Hopefully our warm Maritime hospitality will make up for it. We look forward to seeing you during your Nova Scotia travels.

  21. Sorry your crossing was so rough, Gary. Our family crosses into Ontario by way of Sarnia each year and it’s always much easier going into Canada than back in the US. Maybe it’s a provincial thing?

    If you can while in NS, try to see Cape Breton. It’s beautiful.

  22. I’ve done the BC/Washington crossing too many times to remember. When I first moved out that way I had all kinds of questions and searches while I still had an Indiana license plate. Once I got settled in WA routine crossings weren’t a problem.

    As for the odd questions (sport coat etc.), sometimes the US side does the same thing. They’re just trying to catch you off guard and see if your story doesn’t hold up.

    Hopefully the rest of your trip goes well. Happy Travels!

  23. My wife used to live near there and crossed all the time. I crossed a couple of times in 1997, but that was pre-9/11 etc…

    Maybe you just looked “road weary” after 12 days on the road.

  24. How weird! We used to live in San Diego and they didn’t even check like that when you drove into the States from Mexico.

  25. Are the days of Canada being our friendly neighbor to the north gone? Such a terrible story. Hope it’s smoother coming back in!

  26. It all depends on which crossing you go across, from what I have been told. They could be worried about 1. cigarette smugglers 2. other kinds of smuggling 3. firearms 4. terrorists (they got a lot of flack from the US before)… I’ve heard that the crossing at the prairie borders tend to be better, but that the really busy ones (like Ontario/Michigan and BC/Washington) are generally the ones where people get grilled.

  27. Wow…

    On behalf of Canadians I apologize for that border experience. I actually know that crossing as I’ve used it several times when I still lived in the Maritimes. The only thing I can think of is that there must has been some sort of alert in effect.

  28. Gary-
    They got me Canada to US: http://tthrash.blogspot.com/2010/08/moose-watching-too-close-to-border.html
    and then they got me the other way a few years later: http://tthrash.blogspot.com/2010/08/passing-from-maine-to-canada.html

    This was all pre heightened security era, so I don’t know what was going on at the time. When crossing into ALB and BC, and on a second trip to NS, I was asked a lot of questions, which seemed fine, and that was it. Weird border, to be sure.

    Good luck getting back across.

    • If I could add one thing to this, I would note that on my first return flight from Europe, I didn’t know what to expect after what had happened at the US-Canada border. When they asked a question or two and said “welcome home”, I (perhaps foolishly) said that I had a much harder time when coming in from Canada. Two of the Customs folks laughed and effectively said “yeah, they have nothing better to do up there”. Anyway, enjoy Newfoundland, the rest of your trip, and hoping you have an easy crossing…

  29. Dude, that happened to me when my friend and I drove to Vancouver from Seattle two years ago and it was the same way! They made my friend and I, two innocent twentysomething females, GET OUT OF THE CAR, open the trunk, etc. She was moving (to another apt in Seattle) so there were trash bags in the trunk, and then they got even more suspicious. We said it was only a good thing she had emptied her work stuff out before our trip as she’s a cancer researcher and carries around boxes and boxes of syringes!

    Worst border crossing of my life.

  30. Sorry you had a bad crossing. I at first was questioning your frustrations – I suppose they have to keep the border safe. Yet, you pointing out they weren’t taking any of the obvious security checks – under car mirrors, dogs, etc – makes it seem pretty ridiculous.

    I used to go fishing in Ontario and we always heard horror stories about them ripping entire trucks and boats apart and not putting them back together.

    • I’ve done a LOT of border crossings. Like I said, only Israel was worse and that was Israel. I don’t think Canada is surrounded by countries that want to destroy it like Israel is.

      The questions they asked made no sense. They made a big deal out of the fact that I had a sport coat hanging in my car and were worried that I was going to a conference….as if that would be in violation of some sort of law.

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